On December 1, 2020, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Congressional Representatives announced a $908 billion relief package. Washington is facing pressure for economic relief as funding for programs under the CARES Act and other financial relief legislation and programs runs out.
The current developing version of the bill would provide $160 billion for states and cities, $180 for unemployment insurance, and $288 for additional small business support through the Paycheck Protection Program. Unemployment benefits would be capped at $300 per week for 18 weeks, retroactive to December 1, 2020. Additional beneficiaries include the airlines, U.S. Postal Service, and money for vaccine development and distribution. The bill currently includes something Republicans have sought in other packages—Coronavirus liability protection—at least for a short period of time until states can develop their own laws governing this issue. This issue, however, remains a potential stumbling block as Senator Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said as late as December 8, 2020 that he does not support this protection in the bill.
Many say the need for economic relief is growing increasingly urgent as there are signs the U.S. economy is weakening, including a December 4, 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report noting the pace of improvements in the labor market as moderated. While Washington continues to grapple with details of a potential additional stimulus, many states and even cities are acting swiftly to address economic needs. Among them are Colorado that began distributing $375 unemployment checks to those that received at least one weekly unemployment check beginning in mid-March of 2020. Other states including New Mexico and Oregon have added similar relief measures.
This is a developing story. The latest is that the relief package has been split into two separate proposals by a bipartisan group of U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate negotiators. One bill, with a $748 billion price tag, will include money for unemployment aid, small business loans, and vaccine distribution. The other, a $160 billion bill, contains measures to provide relief to state and local governments and includes business liability protections; these two issues have been what has delayed progress on the combined bill. The expectation is at least the first $748 bill has broad support and will advance, while the prospects for the second bill remain unclear. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is quoted as saying, “We need to get the essential done. We’ll have time to get stuff done that we didn’t include because we couldn’t get political agreement, we’ll have time to do that.”